Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils, Part 3: Prismacolor and Verithin

Vintage Prismacolors
From a user perspective, the vintage colored pencil brand that interests me most is Prismacolor. They have long been favored by many, including fine artists and illustrators, for their creamy softness, rich hues and vast color range. As I mentioned in my introduction, years ago I’d been frustrated by contemporary Prismacolor Premier pencils that I would sharpen and immediately break the cores – as if they were broken already even before sharpening. I sharpened entire pencils, one after the other, without hardly using them and eventually tossed the whole set (I didn’t even want to donate them to Goodwill and subject the next sucker to their flaws). That initial experience soured me to the Prismacolor brand, and I couldn’t understand why so many people loved them.

Eventually I started learning that the people who loved them were using sets that had been made years ago in the US. Prismacolor was originally manufactured by Berol in 1938 (according to Wikipedia; the blog ArtPencilsRare also has historical info), which was founded by Eagle, and both names have appeared with the Prismacolor brand. Somewhere along the way (I can’t seem to find a definitive year), manufacturing was moved from the US to Mexico, and the quality declined. Pencils produced in the ‘90s and earlier seem to be in the safe zone of high quality.

I have only a few Prismacolors in my vintage collection, but they display a variety of Eagle and Berol identities. (I know I said in my Mongol review that I love that logo best, but that top yellow one with the Art Deco logo makes my heart flutter. Don’t miss the lovely photo of Ana Reinert’s collection.) Prismacolors are unusual in that, to this day, they are unfinished on both ends. (Yay for the lefty who sharpened the bottom orange one!) Like their contemporary counterparts, the barrels are round.

Vintage Prismacolors . . . I love that top logo!

To complicate the nomenclature, the softer pencils I think of as Prismacolor came to be named Prismacolor Premier in contemporary parlance. Its sister line, Prismacolor Verithin, is much harder than Premier and is intended for sharp, crisp detailing. This is just a guess, but it seems like the Verithins came along with the Prismacolors in their various parentages, because my very small collection of Verithins displays different versions of the Eagle identity (I’ve also seen Berol versions online). Check out some of the funky color numbers: 746 ½? The indigo and yellow ones say, “Also ideal for marking blue prints” on the reverse. Unlike Prismacolors that are bare on both ends, hex-barreled Verithins wear a sporty banded metal end cap that looks similar to the Mongol’s.  

Vintage Verithins display different renditions of the Eagle logo.

1/6/18 vintage Prismacolors on Stillman & Birn Epsilon
From my brief (and sporadic, between breakages) experience with contemporary Prismacolors, my vintage specimens apply with the same creamy softness that this brand is known for. Since I knew the cores would be soft, I chose a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, which has a smooth surface, for my apple sketch. Although it took multiple layers as expected, the pigments applied as richly as they probably did decades ago. (I read somewhere that colored pencils have a longer useable life span than most art materials; they never dry up, separate or decompose.) I didn’t use any Verithins in this sketch, but my sample scribbles felt the way I remember from contemporary ones.

Although I’m not planning to collect vintage pencils simply to acquire them, I am going to hunt down a few more Prismacolors to use – a clear case of older being better. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Third Place Commons Filled with Sketchers

1/21/18 Lots of sketchers at the giant chessboard!

The “third place” – a concept popularized by Ray Oldenburg in his book, The Great Good Place – is where people gather to create a sense of community. I’d say that yesterday at Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park, Urban Sketchers Seattle formed a large part of the typical Sunday morning community there – we had an amazing turnout of close to 40! (It probably didn’t hurt that Urban Sketchers had been featured on NBC Nightly News the day before!)

The giant chessboard is always an eye-catching focal point, and I managed to get Kathleen, Olivia, Gabi and Steve all in my sketch.
1/21/18 Third Place Commons parking lot

I spent so much time chatting with sketchers, including many I hadn’t seen in months and even years, that I barely had time for a second sketch. I wandered over to the large windows in the very back, which look out over the parking lot, power lines, and lots of fir trees fringing the main thoroughfare. 

I didn’t get a formal group photo, but here’s most of our group trying to get close enough to the throwdown to see the sketchbooks. It was great to see so many sketchers on the first main meetup of the year!

Queuing up to see the throwdown!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

My Haiku and Sketches in Plumbago!

Published in Plumbago!
Who knew I still had some poems in me? 😉

Plumbago is a periodic ‘zine published by Andy Welfle, a co-host of the Erasable podcast about pencils. In issue No. 2 (now sold out) my blog post about the various ways I use Field Notes was republished. The just-released issue No.3 has a literary theme, so I submitted some urban sketches made with pencil and wrote a haiku to go with each. It’s been decades since I wrote any poems (I have a master’s degree in creative writing, but I stopped that kind of writing when I reached my 30s), so I did it as much as a personal challenge as anything else. Shown below are the three I submitted; the first two are published in Plumbago. 

All proceeds from this issue of Plumbago are being donated to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils, Part 2: Eberhard Faber Mongol

I love the logo and typeface!
Box front

Of all the vintage colored pencils in my modest collection, the logo and typeface on the Eberhard Faber Mongol set are my favorite. They are identical to branding on Mongol graphite pencils of the same era (I assume) that I’ve seen online (Three Staples has good photos). Instead of a ferrule and eraser as on the graphite pencils, the round-barreled colored pencils sport a jaunty brass-colored end cap with a black band. I wish I could learn more about these pencils, but most of my Internet searches led to their graphite cousins.

The only water-soluble pencils in my vintage collection, the almost-complete set of 36 came as part of an inexpensive mixed lot I found on eBay. The box they came in is rather tattered and fragile, but it can open up to form a hinged stand (shown well on Rad and Hungry’s blog). The copyright date says 1950; made in the USA by Eberhard Faber Pencil Co., Brooklyn, NY.

Inner box panel

Inside are instructions for “A New Technique” and an invitation to “Paint with Pencils” using brush and water. As you might guess, I was thrilled to grab some old pencils that are water-soluble, since that characteristic seems harder to find in my vintage searches. (Anyone know of other brands?)

Unfortunately, they aren’t watercolor pencils I am encouraged to use. After swatching the colors, I didn’t make a sketch sample as I did with my other vintage pencils. The Mongols apply very hard and dry, both the dry and the washed colors lack intensity, and the pigments don’t dissolve easily. They remind me of novelty pencils or inexpensive sets made for kids.
Pigments lack intensity; washes are wimpy

I’m not disappointed, though. I treat these pencils like flowers; they don’t have to do anything but be pretty and increase my happiness.

Friday, January 19, 2018


1/18/18 1-minute poses
I recently read the book, Undressed Art – Why We Draw, by Peter Steinhart. While it is mainly about art and the human compulsion to draw, it is also about the relationship between the artist and the life drawing model. Although it’s mostly unspoken, a certain level of communication goes on between the model, who is willing to take off his or her clothes for a roomful of people, and the artists who show up to draw this naked person. 

Unless you count Drawing Jam in December, yesterday was the first time I had been to a life-drawing session at Gage in more than six months. Feeling very stiff and rusty, I thought about what I’d read in Steinhart’s book and was very grateful for Shauna, our model that day. One of my favorite Gage models, she has an open expressiveness with her poses that somehow makes it easier to engage with her with my pen or pencil. She has a delightful spontaneity – or makes it seem she does – even as she must be completely in control to hold dynamic poses for up to 20 minutes. During the one-minute poses, the music we were listening to changed to the theme song from “Rocky,” and she put up her dukes! Perhaps it was a well-rehearsed pose that she’d done before, but I felt entertained. She also moved with such fluidity that it helped me past my own creakiness.

1/18/18 2-minute poses
1/18/18 5-minute poses

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils, Part 1: My New Year’s Resolution

Happiness is a bouquet of vintage colored pencils.
My one and only resolution this year is to remove unwanted and unneeded stuff from my studio. I’m relatively good about regularly getting rid of clothing, kitchen goods and even books, but my biggest hurdle has been my studio: all the fabric, yarn, rubberstamps, beads, paper and what-all from the many crafts I was heavily into at various time but haven’t touched in years. I guess some part of me always thinks I might get back to them someday, but I decided it was time for them to go.

During the first half of January, I packed carton after carton and hauled them over to Seattle ReCreative, a nonprofit store I discovered only recently. It’s like a thrift store, except it carries only art and craft supplies, and it gives those supplies to local schools. In addition, it offers a variety of art classes to children, and all the class materials are supplied free from donations by people like me who want to get rid of their stuff. Win-win! I was very happy to discover this store only a mile from my house.  

When I made an initial visit to find out whether my intended donations would be welcome, I couldn’t resist walking through the store. I told myself over and over that I was there to move stuff out of my house – not bring stuff back in! I did just fine past the fabric, yarn, rubberstamps, beads and paper – but then I spied a neatly sorted tray of colored pencils.

Now, I’ve been in many thrift stores where the only pencils for sale are part of a huge plastic bag of miscellaneous writing utensils, and you must buy the whole bag. Or there’s a bucket of crayons and pencils that look like they have been chewed by kids or dogs, and I’m not inclined to dig through them for possible gems. At Seattle ReCreative, there was such a bucket of the usual Crayola colored pencils, but in addition, some volunteers had picked out a small selection and even sorted them by color. These looked worth going through!
The logos and typefaces alone are worth the price of admission.
And go through them I did, one by one. Most were older, art-quality pencils, some never sharpened or nearly full length. I left the store with a modest fistful of old Berol and Eagle Prismacolors, Verithins, Eberhard-Faber Mongols and various others. The nostalgia-inducing logos and lovely typefaces alone were worth the twenty-five cents I paid per pencil.

As I sharpened them up and made a sketch, I recalled a post on the Well-Appointed Desk in which Ana had talked about vintage colored pencils and how the older Prismacolors were superior in quality to contemporary ones. As someone who had tossed a box of modern Prismacolors years ago because the cores kept breaking (as if they were already broken inside the wood), I had made a mental note when I’d initially read the post: Old is better.

My finds at Seattle ReCreative and re-reading Ana’s post piqued my curiosity. I started searching the Internet for information about colored pencil history. And as anyone who “collects” anything does, I went to eBay, where I picked up a modest assortment of vintage pencils for about the same price as the thrift store. (May I just pause here to say that I’m annoyed that products manufactured in the ‘90s are considered “vintage”? Why does “vintage” keep getting more and more recent! End of old fart’s rant.)

One day, Ana and I were chatting about vintage colored pencils, and the next thing I knew, she kindly sent me a bunch of unsharpened Eberhard Faber Colorbrites and others! Suddenly it seemed I had a collection! (Yes, I’m well aware that I’m still moving stuff out, not in. But it’s just a few pencils. 😉) 

Stay tuned – I’m going to review specific pencil brands in upcoming posts. 

Here's all the stuff I got rid of. Surely a few pencils will take up less space than this!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Expensive and Unpleasant

1/15/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood

The other day when the sun crossing a window unexpectedly cast shadows on some pears I was sketching, it suddenly added urgency to a normally leisurely still life. But it also signaled another urgency: The sun’s out – what am I doing inside? Time’s a-wastin’! 

I dashed outside and walked a couple of blocks, where I’d earlier seen a red and white excavator. It was still, but the lawn and soil around it was already ripped to shreds. As I sketched, the owner of the house came out to chat with her neighbor, describing the expensive and unpleasant project under way. Sewers are involved.  
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